Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

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Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)
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Your rating: None Average: 4.4 (5 votes)
Author: tess
Date: 1-18-11
Servings: 2-3
Prep Time: 30 minutes
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Onigiri, also known as omusubi, are in essence Japanese rice balls. You'll find them often filled with various savory items and wrapped with dried roasted seaweed, though you can also find non-seaweed wrapped rice balls with savory bits distributed throughout the rice ball. In other words, these little critters vary hugely and are kind of like blank canvases, where you can create your own Onigiri art.

To make nicely formed onigiri, the key is applying the right amount of pressure. That, and keeping the dang rice from sticking all over your fingers -- more this technique later. Personally, I prefer to simply use a plastic onigiri mold that I picked up from Uwajimaya. Flavorwise, I tend towards classically salty and savory items, but you can experiment - even see what's leftover in your fridge and see what works best for you. So, in short, there are lots of Onigiri variables: (1) the shape of onigiri, (2) the filling of onigiri vs. flavoring distributed throughout the rice, (3) to wrap with seaweed or not and so on.

Onigiri is pretty ubiquitous in Japanese convenience stores, where they come in these amazing little plastic contraptions to keep the seaweed separate from the rice (otherwise it would get too soggy). You can also find rice balls in other Asian cuisines, like Korean, where they are called jumok bap or the ever popular Hawaiian SPAM musubi, a particular variant of rice ball with flavored, fried SPAM.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of short-grain rice (makes 4-6 rice balls)
  • 1-2 dried unseasoned seaweed sheets, cut into strips
  • warm, salted water for your hands
  • Onigiri Filling Option 1: Tuna & Mayo
  • 1 piece of oil-packed tuna
  • squirt of mayonnaise
  • Onigiri Filling Option 2: Roe (Tarako)
  • cooked cod roe (tarako, or the spiced version - mentaiko)
  • Onigiri Filling Option 3: Pickled Plum (Umeboshi)
  • pickled plum (umeboshi), chopped
  • Onigiri Filling Option 4: Soy Sauce-Sprinkled Fish Flakes (Katsuobushi or Bonito)
  • pinch of dried tuna flakes (katsuobushi or bonito)
  • soy sauce
  • Onigiri - Distributed Tidbits:
  • furikake, or dried japanese condiment (I use shiso fumi furikake in my version)

Recipe Steps:

  • Cook the rice as you normally would. Set aside a small bowl of warm, salted water for keeping sticky rice off of your hands.
  • Choose your filing and prepare.
  • For tuna: try to squeeze out the oil and be sparing with your use of mayo. Flake the tuna and mix thoroughly with the mayo.
  • For tarako/mentaiko: lightly grill or fry the cod roe sac, then slice into small discs.
  • For umeboshi: nothing to do here but remove the pit and slice into smaller pieces.
  • For katsuobushi: sprinkle a few drops of soy sauce over the tuna flakes to ensure even distribution. Rub the sauce around with your fingers.
  • To form the rice balls, scoop about a handful of rice and form into a ball. Use your thumb to make an indentation for the filling, then using the palm and fingers of one hand wrap the rice around the indentation. Use the palm of your hand to form the "base" of a rough triangle. Wet your hands with the salt water to distribute flavor into the rice and to keep your hands from getting sticky.
  • You can create "hard" edges with your palm or by smushing down an edge onto a wet cutting board. The idea is to keep the rice compact, but not overly mashed. When you're done, lay a strip of seaweed like a little hat on top, or bisecting one of the sides of the rice ball.
  • For the onigiri that has the flavoring distributed throughout the rice, simply sprinkle furikake in the rice and form a triangle. Don't wrap this kind with any seaweed.

Serving Size: 2-3
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

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